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Law enforcement kill man suspected of shootings, kidnapping in Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach

From left: Chief Deputy Ken Sarvis, District Attorney Ben David, Sheriff Ed McMahon, Wilmington Police Chief Donny Williams, and Wrightsville Beach Police Chief David Squires.
Benjamin Schachtman
From left: Chief Deputy Ken Sarvis, District Attorney Ben David, Sheriff Ed McMahon, Wilmington Police Chief Donny Williams, and Wrightsville Beach Police Chief David Squires.

On Friday afternoon, law enforcement killed a suspect during a shootout on Market Street in Wilmington. Officials say they believe the man was behind several seemingly random acts of violence over a 24-hour period. WHQR’s Ben Schachtman and Kelly Kenoyer were on the scene as top law enforcement officials helped piece together the story.

Below: Joint press conference held on Friday, August 18.

Benjamin Schachtman: So Kelly, let’s jump straight into it. We heard reports on social media about a frightening scene on Wrightsville Beach, then a shootout on Market Street. When did this all start?

Kelly Kenoyer: Well Ben, it actually started on Thursday afternoon. Around 5:34 p.m. that evening, someone fired at least seven rounds into an occupied house on the 200-block of Dixie Avenue — but no one was injured. Less than an hour later, the suspect allegedly drove by and shot at a 54-year-old woman who was walking her dog on the 4100 block of Lake Avenue, near Roland Grice Middle School. She was struck five times and was taken to the hospital with serious injuries.

BS: Right — and at the press conference, Wilmington Police Chief Donny Williams said they found similar 9mm shell casings at both locations — and officers spent a lot of time that evening and the following morning trying to locate the suspect, who we learned had swapped vehicles, possibly to evade law enforcement.

KK: Then, Friday afternoon around 12:35 pm, Wrightsville Beach Police received calls for service on a rapidly evolving situation. They heard about shots being fired, but when they arrived they only saw bullet casings on the ground at the dead end of Scotch Bonnett Road.

BS: Witnesses saw a woman fleeing a house there with her hands wrapped with zip ties — I got a call from someone who saw it firsthand, and some of our colleagues at other outlets received photos of it. Truly scary.

KK: Police say she had come to a house to clean it, bringing her children and another child with her. When she arrived, the suspect’s vehicle was in the driveway. He initially didn’t seem threatening, and he asked for her help getting into a storage area.

BS: She actually offered to help, we’re told, and that’s when he shoved her into the storage room, zip-tied her, and assaulted her — we don’t know how badly — when the kids came back from the beach looking for her, they opened that door. Here’s Wrightsville Beach Police Chief David Squires: “When the children came to check on the adult, there was some confusion and the door opened and there was a run for your life.”

KK: That incident got the police a description of the vehicle — a black sedan with no license plate — and it was apparently all hands on deck from there. They caught sight of the suspect’s car on Eastwood Road, and tried to pull him over. When he didn’t pull over, they did a PIT maneuver.

BS: They essentially tried to ram his car to get him to turn rapidly and force him to stop — but he was able to get past them, sending one police vehicle into a retention pond.

KK: As he sped off, he crashed into a civilian vehicle. That happened on Lennon and Market streets, and it caused a lot of chaos. We saw several vehicles that had scrapes and dents, and a couple of witnesses told me the suspect had run into their car.

BS: He was also reportedly waving a gun around. And when his car came to a stop, he jumped out.

KK: That’s when “shots were fired,” as Chief Williams said.

BS: Three deputies and one police officer discharged their weapons, and so did the suspect — I’m sure if it’s clear right now who shot first. Several businesses along Market were struck by bullets, we saw bullet holes and broken glass when we were there — and a few cars were struck as well. But miraculously, it doesn’t seem like any bystanders were hit- just a little jarred from the car crashes.

KK: The lingering question at this point is the motive. We still don’t know the man’s name — that won’t be released until his next of kin are notified [the DA's office later identified him as William Brent Gilmore] — but we know he was a 35-year-old white male. The State Bureau of Investigations will be looking into the case, as they do in all cases of officer-involved shootings, to make sure the lethal force was justified. In the meantime, though, Chief Williams and others in law enforcement want to make it clear to the public: there’s no lingering danger: “We are confident that this is the same suspect from the two incidents yesterday and I'm just thankful that no one was injured except for the suspect himself.”

BS: I know folks will have a lot more questions, believe me, we do too. And there will be more information released after the SBI has had a chance to look at the case — but I will note that District Attorney Ben David was able to provide more information than we might otherwise get in an officer-involved shooting, especially with so many agencies involved, because, as he said, there’s a very low probability of this going to trial. But that’s what we know — for the rest, we’ll have to wait. So for now, thanks for your reporting, Kelly.

KK: Thanks, Ben.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.
Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.